Once again, Miami is showing the world that it moves to its own beat. While the majority of US cities remain weighted down by the effects of negative equity going into the fourth year of the recession, Miami has been soaring thanks to waves of cash flooding not only from its customary money pipeline, Latin America, but also from far, farther afield—Russia. The deluge of ruble-, bolívar-, peso-, and Brazilian realexchanged dollars has bailed out Miami’s real estate sector, crowded luxury label boutiques, recharged the restaurant scene, and is presently inspiring the best architects in the world to reshape the Miami skyline. Now, it is realigning the social and business sectors, too.
The newcomers are an amalgam of Latin one percenters—Brazilians, Venezuelans, Mexicans—mixed in with Russian oligarchs and “minigarchs.” Their arrival and impact justify the city’s nickname, the Magic City, as Miami has indeed pulled off another miraculous selfreinvention during the worst global economic turndown of the last 80 years.
Newcomers to Miami are actually nothing new. Throughout the city’s history, various Latin groups have had their “seasons.” Cubans came here to escape Castro after he took over the country in 1959. The Venezuelan tide has ebbed and flowed since the ’70s, depending on oil prices. Colombians came as refugees from the drug wars of the 1980s and 1990s. At the start of the new millennium, the Argentineans arrived to escape their country’s financial woes. Brazilians have trickled in over the years, but that trickle became a torrent since 2008, thanks to the exchange rate differential and the arbitrage in real estate prices between São Paulo and the States. The Russians, having bought everything worth owning in St-Tropez and Monaco—and looking to escape dreary Moscow winters when the south of France turns cold—are on the move. Lately, Miami has been welcoming waves of Venezuelans and Mexicans.
Perhaps more important than the sun-and-fun culture and great real estate deals, Miami offers security—a big issue for both Latin and Russian arrivals. Émigré one percenters see Miami as a city where they can enjoy their success, move about more freely and with fewer bodyguards and bulletproof cars than at home, where staying sane means hovering between states of denial and paranoia. In Miami, they can cruise in luxury vehicles and race their Lamborghinis in a way that they’d never dare dream of in Caracas or São Paulo.
Then there’s the fact that Miami society and its power circles have always been relatively easy for the well-heeled émigré to crack. Unlike many other US locales, foreign communities often call the shots and make the rules here. WASP hegemonies, which dominated so many cities in the South, never held the same sway in Miami. Palm Beach is only a one-and-a-half-hour drive away but worlds apart, where the money is older and quieter, and where you have to put in years on the charity circuit before getting a look in.
Miami is not a snobbish city, nor does it have many rules. In fact, rules and controlling governments are what many of its new inhabitants came here to escape. Blending in is easy. One-percenter money, regardless of original currency, tends to spend in similar ways beneath the tropical sun.
photographs by seth Browarnik/worldredeye.com (liv); Neil Rasmus/BFAnyc.com (sampaio); Marcelo Piu/Globo via Getty Images (britto); Tony Arruza/CORBIS (condos); Richard T. Nowitz/Corbis (biltmore); Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage (cisneros); Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images (torres); James Shearer (zuma); Nicholas Hunt/PatrickMcMullan.com (talamas); Porsche Cars North America (porsche); Ethan Miller/Getty Images (abaroa); bill wisser (forge); Wayne Eastep/gettyimages.com (star island); KCSP resse/Splash News (campbell); Courtesy of The Starwood Hotels (w hotel)